I’m sure by the time you are reading this article you will be fully aware that today is International Women’s Day. Marked every year on 8 March, it aims to celebrate women’s achievements and increase visibility, while calling out inequality.
This year, International Women’s Day also happens to also coincide with Women of Aviation Week, which aims to address the gender imbalance across our industry.
It may feel a bit strange that in 2023, 113 years after the first woman gained her pilot’s licence, gender equality is still something we are striving towards. It’s well-known that within aviation that women are hugely underrepresented, and even within NATS, only 27% of our workforce are women and our last gender pay gap report in 2021 showed a mean gap of 16.8%.
Whilst we are fully on board with using today to celebrate all of the incredible and inspirational women that work at NATS, it would be wrong for us to do so without being completely transparent about our own current situation. The fact is that we are not yet where we want to be in this regard. We have put a lot of focus on this area over the last few years though and are determined to make meaningful change to improve the experience of the women who work at NATS, and to inspire and attract more women into the aviation industry.
So, what have we been doing to improve gender equality at NATS and what are our next steps?
The last few years…
In 2021, as part of launching our internal menopause policy, one of our own Medical Officers, Dr Sarah Ewer, provided research that has now helped to change the CAA’s aeromedical guidance. The previous guidance enforced a mandatory 14-day unfit period for controllers who were starting treatment which put off a lot of people who wanted to start HRT. This mandatory period has now been removed which will make a huge difference to the lives of people across the industry.
At the end of 2022, we launched our internal Domestic Violence policy to increase understanding and provide extra support to colleagues who may be experiencing domestic abuse. Although domestic abuse can happen to anyone, we know it disproportionately affects women and so our aim was to help anyone in this situation to feel less alone, and to provide vital support for those individuals and their managers.
For a number of years, we have hosted the CyberFirst Girls Competition South East regional final, the competition is part of the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) campaign to inspire more girls to consider pursuing careers in cyber, as female representation in the sector only accounts for 16% of the UK’s cyber workforce.
Last year, we also restarted our Graduate and Apprenticeship Early Careers Scheme after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. As part of our selection process, we committed to hiring 50% women into these roles and, through a concerted effort to adapt our assessment methods, our intake ended up being 58% women, 27% of the intake also being from an ethnic minority background.
Most recently we have also welcomed a new Equality Diversity and Inclusion Programme Manager who will be responsible for pulling together all the various avenues of work and ensuring we are all working collectively towards the same goal and things are always progressing.
Plans for the next year
Whilst we aren’t where we want to be yet, we are ensuring that we take the right actions and are laying robust foundations that will improve gender equality within NATS. As an organisation we remain committed to doing all we can to accelerate this work within our own business as well as across the wider aviation industry – NATS is one of the signatories to have signed the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter; a Government initiative aimed at increasing gender balance across the industry.
2023 will see a continued focus on improving our recruitment by ensuring the fairness of our processes. This will include the launch of a Hiring Manager Toolkit which will provide advice and support to ensure a consistent approach to all recruitment. We will be introducing redacted CVs to limit bias and will continue the process of educating our managers through unconscious bias and inclusive recruitment training.
There will be an emphasis on attracting and recruiting more women, retaining them within our workforce and progressing our female talent into the most senior roles within the business. As part of this work, we know we also need to encourage young women to consider roles in STEM (science, technology, maths and engineering) so in 2023 we are also planning to re-launch our Future Minds open day through which we bring young women into the business to learn about careers in aviation.
Looking to our existing workforce, later this year we will be launching our new Menopause plan provided by Bupa for all female and transgender male employees. The plan offers one to one appointments with menopause trained GPs, who can prescribe HRT if needed, as well as providing other support through a menopause helpline.
While it will always be important that we celebrate the actions and commitments we have made as an organisation, we must also continue to look to the future and build inclusive and inspirational plans and remove barriers to equality.
Are you interested in a career in aviation?
Join us next week on Thursday 16 March, 12:00 – 13:00 for our next Women of NATS event where I’ll be speaking to several women from across the organisation about their experiences as women in the industry, their journeys into NATS and what their roles entail.
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